Unity is Evangelism
I’m not found in one
But can be in three,
I hold things together,
What can I be?
Let me give you some clues on the answer to the riddle.
It is rarely found in modern Italian parliament, in fact rarely in any parliaments globally. It is embodied in the crowds at Football Park but is rarely seen in the Gaza strip.
A lack of it causes the tragic bloodbaths we have seen in Yugoslavia, as Serbia enacted age old vengeances and tried to hold together by force what it could not do by negotiation.
What is it? Well, Jesus spoke of it in the John 17: 21, ‘I pray that they may all be one.’
Unity is a precious and all too rare gift in life. What a great feeling it is when the family agrees on where to go for a holiday. Or when they are united on what movie to go to. Families thrive on unity, as does industrial life.
What a precious gift is unity, symbolized in the power and effectiveness of a crew of rowers, rowing at the same pace, as their boat slices through the water. Think of a surgery when each person does his/her role as a part of the surgical team.
Unity is precious and essential. It is one of the few issues or concerns that Jesus publically told people he was praying for. John 17: 20, ‘My prayer is not for the [disciples] alone, but for all those who will believe in me through their message, that they may all be one, Father. May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you.’
Jesus must have cast his eye over his variegated disciples and felt a need to pray this prayer. Could the impulsive humanity of Peter work with the meditative nature of the John who would write a gospel? Could this little band survive a betrayal from Judas?
Would they be able to hold together under an onslaught from the Jewish authorities once Jesus had ascended? Would the church beyond the first generation unite against persecutions from emperors like Diacletian, Nero and Caligula?
Would the church splinter over some aspect of the rich truths of the Gospel, and so scatter into a multitude of denominations like beetles exposed under a long unmoved rock? Could the Church stay united despite its diverse beliefs and personalities?
Jesus prayer is for them, or us.
For all who come to believe, as verse 20 makes clear, come to faith not only because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but also as a result of the prayers of Jesus. We believe because Jesus prayed for us.
But that is only the beginning. It is Jesus wish that his people be one; locally and wherever the church exists. And we must admit that disunity has been a drawback to the witness of the church historically.
Before the Israelis occupied the West Bank, a group of Christian pilgrims once gathered at the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Inside, they were given small candles despite there being plenty of light fixtures. Why candles? A Muslim policeman explained that Christian groups that used the church used to fight over who should pay the light bills, so the Muslims had shut the power off to stop the fighting.
Shortly after, the same Muslim asked the people to leave right on 5pm. Despite the recent arrival of the group, he explained that the Christian groups had scrapped over who had the right to open and close the church, so the key had been taken from them and Muslims now supervised the matters.
Sure that kind of thing happens and it is to Christianity’s discredit, but there is much more unity than disunity.
I am involved in a dialogue group with Roman Catholic men and women, both lay and ordained, and though some of the language and much of the tradition is different, we continually affirm how much we have in common. Above all, we have in common a belief in the Lordship and uniqueness of Christ.
That might not always translate into perfect sacramental unity at Loreto College events, but it reminds us that a wider unity of the church today is not impossible, and one reason the Uniting Church is called so.
And this is what Jesus wants to make clear to His followers in verse 21, ‘may they be one so that the world may believe that you sent me.’ Now we may think that the world could not care less about whether the Father sent Jesus, but here the Lord is saying that our unity as churches and as Christians locally will be a pointer to who it was who came to Bethlehem and Calvary, and how He changed people.
Unity is its own evangelism He says.
Fine, you say, but what does unity look like? It is everyone agreeing all the time about everything? Surely not!
Can you imagine how dull marriage would be if wives always accepted the words and wisdom of their husbands as oracular? I’m not suggesting that there is an imminent risk of that happening, but creative disagreement in the context of love is not contrary to the unity of love. Unity is not one person being another person’s doormat for the sake of keeping the peace. No-one benefits from that.
Unity is allowing our love to be stronger than either our humanity or our pride or our insistence on our own way.
Let me conclude with 6 practical suggestions as to how you can promote unity in our church and beyond.
- Pray for our church and especially for people for whom you may disagree with.
- Take time to talk with those who think differently, whether it be over music, stewardship or theology.
- Be part of ecumenical opportunities.
- Take time to talk to people of other denominations and so appreciate why we are different.
- Memorise John 17: 20-23 so that Jesus’ wishes are central to our own thinking.
- Let us thank God for all that we do have in common with one another and all Christian denominations.
Let us remember what John Wesley said about unity when he said to those who were not of a Methodist persuasion, ‘If your heart beats with my heart in love and loyalty to Jesus Christ, then give me your hand.’
By George Robert Iles